JUN 13th 2021
Anglican Episcopal Church
This is the One…
One of my favourite authors -- when I find time to do some leisure reading -- is British-born, Canadian-American journalist, Malcolm Gladwell. You may be familiar with some of his works, many of them best-sellers, which often explore everyday phenomena and commonplace assumptions, the kinds of things in other words that most of us take for granted most of the time; like, say, that bigger is always better. Hmm… That makes me wonder what Gladwell would make of Jesus’ story of the Mustard Seed from today’s Gospel account.
In any case, in his work of a few years ago called appropriately enough, Blink as in blink of an eye, Gladwell explores human intuition, something we have all experienced. And he begins his narrative with an anecdote from the world of art. Some decades ago, it seems, the famed Getty Museum of Los Angeles had it in mind to purchase an ancient Greek statue for their growing collections. They soon enough found what they were looking for; had it appraised; checked out the provenance and documentation associated with it going back well over a century; and just to be sure had Interpol, the international police agency, investigate for possible issues of art theft and fraud.
Satisfied with their due diligence, the directorate moved ahead with its decision and purchased the statue and promptly invited two of the most distinguished art historians and critics in Southern California to the gala unveiling. Moments after the curtain rose to oohs-and-aahs and in front of several hundred distinguished guests, the Director of the Museum proudly asked the professors what they thought of the new acquisition.
Without a moment’s hesitation, the two blurted out almost in unison, “It’s a fake.” Pressed further, one of the scholars explained, “I do not know exactly why or how I know that. But this piece is not genuine.” Perhaps God had whispered into their ear, as he apparently did to Samuel in today’s first Reading from the First Book of Kings. And, as you have probably guessed by now, upon further research, the Museum sheepishly had to admit that they had just spent several million dollars on a fake, a worthless reproduction. Such, says author Malcolm Gladwell, is the power of human intuition.
It is unlikely, I should think, that the Prophet Samuel of this morning’s first reading had read Gladwell’s book on intuition as he set out at God’s direction for Bethlehem in search of a new king for Israel; a perilous task, by the way, if there ever was one, since Israel already had a perfectly serviceable king in Saul, one who in fact liked being king and had no desire to relinquish his throne any time soon. Back then apparently, as today, most political leaders do not give up power and dominion so easily. Nowadays, just ask any American or Israeli.
And so, at Samuel’s behest, the nervous Jesse, as we see, parades his strapping sons in front of the Prophet, one after the other. Yet in spite of their presumed prowess and strength, not one of them is found suitable to be king. After further coaxing from Samuel who is himself being coached by the Lord, Jesse at last calls in David, the shepherd boy, the youngest and least likely of the kin to be chosen as leader of anything except perhaps a flock of hapless sheep. Yet, “This is the one,” the Lord whispers to Samuel; and Samuel in turn conveys the message and anoints David king. David, this most unlikely of all characters, eventually becomes the most beloved of ancient Israel’s kings. And, we still speak of him today, as I am doing right now.
This is the One…
It is probably fair to say and to assume that God must know what he is doing. God is God, after all, all-knowing and all-wise. He must have read David’s character and perhaps mind and thus settled upon him as king. One supposes Samuel, on the other hand, might have had at least a momentary urge to second-guess the Lord’s decision. Are you sure about that, Lord…? Would you not like to take a day or two and review David’s curriculum vitae before naming him King…? Have Interpol run a background check…? But that clearly is not God’s way. He sees something in David and seizes upon it. The decision is made.
According to the experts, most of us, upon meeting a new person for the very first time, draw conclusions about their nature and character well within one minute, even though we are not conscious of having done so. This person is a fake, we might think to ourselves. Or, this person is genuine. So, if we are made in the image of God, perhaps we also inherited the Lord’s gift of intuition. And come think of it, perhaps Malcolm Gladwell should have been a theologian instead of a journalist. Still, whether any of us would have been as bold as Samuel in naming David king is an open question. One which happily none of us will ever have to answer.
It is also clear that the Lord has a love for the counter, the fickle, the uncommon, and, well, the odd. Which I suppose should be a comfort to the majority of us here this morning. You know who you are. Why else would the Lord of the Universe settle upon an unknown, unschooled, and unlikely farm kid to represent his presence before his people, before all of us…? When you stop to think about it, why else would he chose us essentially for the same purpose…?
The temptation is all too easy for any of us to think we cannot make much of a difference in the world. The forces of evil, perhaps even the forces of nature, our own included, are against us. But that does not seem to be the story told in Scripture. That is not the story of shepherd boys and even mustard seeds. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes the weak are the strong. And for our having been here, the world will never be the same.
As Gladwell might well remind us, you only have to blink to see and understand.
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs